Islanders have faith in youth movement

by David Unkle

While one game does not make a career, Ryan O’Marra certainly did his part on Friday night in his first professional outing to demonstrate why the New York Islanders took him with the 15th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

O’Marra’s signing earlier in the week to a three-year, entry-level NHL contract means that, pending off-season roster changes, next season’s Islanders club will feature the organization’s last five top picks.

Dave Baseggio, head coach of the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, seems to think that O’Marra’s time in Connecticut will be limited, uniting the 18-year-old with Rick DiPietro (2000), Sean Bergenheim (2002), Robert Nilsson (2003) and Petteri Nokelainen (2004) on the Islanders roster.

"I thought Ryan was outstanding and not just because he scored the two goals," said Baseggio, after his team fell 4-2 to the Philadelphia Phantoms on Friday night.

Scoring on the first two shots of his career, O’Marra almost had a hat trick, his third-period shot from the left wing boards missed by a couple of inches off and rang off the far post.

"I had a couple of horseshoes in me tonight," said O’Marra, who almost single-handedly brought the Sound Tigers back from a three-goal deficit.

On his first goal, O’Marra was perched on the Phantoms’ doorstep when he received a bouncing puck off the stick Steve Regier with the Sound Tigers enjoying a man-advantage opportunity.

O’Marra hacked away until he was able to knock it behind Philadelphia netminder Martin Houle at 16:55 of the first period, tying the game at 1-1.

After the Phantoms responded with three unanswered goals in the second period to take a commanding 4-1 lead, O’Marra found himself in a four-on-two rush into the Phantoms zone.

O’Marra’s gritty style of play provided the same results and his second power-play goal at 3:06 of the third period seemed to recharge the Sound Tigers, who watched the game slip away in the three-goal, 21-shot second period by the Phantoms.

"I watched (O’Marra) in the World Junior tournament this year and he’s just a steady two-way guy who shows up to play every shift," said Ken Morrow, the Islanders’ director of pro scouting.

"As you saw, he can score you some goals, he can kill penalties, he can check, and he can hit…he does a little bit of everything," explained Morrow, adding that O’Marra "doesn’t look out of place" at the AHL level.

"He looks like a 10-year pro the way he handled himself…he’s 18 years old but he plays like a 25- or 26-year-old," said Morrow.

"It was unbelievable that he showed that much faith in me," said O’Marra, somewhat surprised to find himself on the ice taking a regular shift with the Sound Tigers defending an empty net.

"He already had two goals and I was just playing it by ear with him," explained Baseggio. "As the game went on, I liked what I saw and tried to go with him again. On face-offs Ryan was great, his positioning (on the ice) was great, his effort…everything."

"(The players) made me feel welcomed which was definitely a big part in me doing so well in my first game," said O’Marra who is also the first Japanese-born player to be selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.

"I think we have a good one," pronounced Baseggio.

David Unkle covers the AHL for SLAM! Sports